Why Japan Wants to Break Free of Its Pacifist Past

Japan's allies offer encouragement, while regional neighbors grow nervous

  • Share
  • Read Later
Hajime Kimura for TIME

A Self-Defense Forces pilot during alert training at the Naha Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, on Sept. 10, 2013

U.S. Marine tilt-rotor aircraft swooped in during a joint training exercise at this military training range in southwestern Japan last week, dropping off Japanese ground troops and peeling away. The soldiers raced to nearby positions, cutting off an opposing force threatening Marines nearby.

As military maneuvers go, it was fairly basic. But had it been a real-world mission, it might also have been illegal.

Under the current interpretation of Japan’s pacifist constitution, Japan’s armed forces are not permitted to fight on behalf of friends or allies unless the Japanese themselves come under direct attack.

It is a policy that conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to change. An advisory panel is expected to issue a report by year’s end recommending that Abe issue a new interpretation of the 66-year-old constitution. A new policy is expected, which will permit Japanese troops to come to the aid of not only Americans and other allies, but international peacekeepers and civilian refugees as well.

“Some people fear that if the interpretation is changed, Japan will be able to wage war on the other side of the world, but that’s not what this is about,” says Yuichi Hosoya, a law professor at Keio University and a member of Abe’s Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security.

(MORE: Return of the Samurai: Japan’s Leadership Seeks to Recapture the Country’s Former Glory)

“The purpose is to enable Japan to help defend members of other countries, be they peacekeepers or civilians. It is about engaging in joint, collective self-defense,” Hosoya says.

At present, about 350 Japanese troops — mostly engineers — are part of a U.N. peacekeeping force in South Sudan. Japanese warships and patrol planes have been taking part in multinational antipiracy missions off the coast of Somalia since 2009.

Japan has wrestled with constitutional limits on its troops for decades. Prior to the 1990s, Japan refused to participate in international peacekeeping operations or other missions that might draw Japanese troops into a fight. Though formidable, Japan’s armed forces are organized, trained and equipped largely for defensive operations.

Nonetheless, China’s rising military strength and assertiveness, and increasing calls for Japan — still one of world’s richest countries — to participate in international peace and security operations has forced a new look at how and when its forces might be allowed to fight.

Under the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, American forces are obligated to defend Japan against attack. But Japan’s responsibilities for protecting Americans are less clearly defined. Abe says he wants to tighten security relations with Washington, and argues that failure to help defend American forces when necessary could jeopardize the alliance.

“Imagine a situation where a U.S. warship protecting waters around Japan comes under a missile attack when our Aegis ship is nearby,” Abe told reporters in July. “If we don’t shoot [hostile missiles] down despite our capability [to do so], the American ship will sink and many young lives will be lost. Can we maintain the alliance under such a circumstance?”

Americans have been quietly urging Japan to drop the ban on collective self-defense. Australia’s new Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, said last week that her government welcomes “the direction that the Abe government has taken in terms of having a more normal defense posture and being able to take a constructive role in regional and global security.”

But not everyone thinks that’s a good idea.

(MORE: Why Japan’s Biggest Defense-Spend Hike in Over Two Decades Isn’t Going to Buy Much)

China has denounced the debate over collective self-defense as evidence of rising Japanese militarism. Officials in South Korea, another U.S. ally, have expressed reservations about the change in policy as well.

Even in Japan, where support for the self-defense force has grown dramatically since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, 59% of respondents in a recent Asahi newspaper poll said they opposed any change in the policy.

Abe had been expected to push for revisions during a special session of the Diet that began last week, but has delayed action until the advisory panel issues its report.

For troops training at the Aibano range last week, the policy debate seemed somewhat moot.

About 80 U.S. Marines and 200 members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force spent two weeks practicing basic infantry skills and working to eliminate language, cultural and operational differences. Though smaller than originally planned, the exercise carried on despite budget chaos in Washington and a typhoon that battered much of eastern and central Japan.

The senior Japanese commander on the scene said the exercise, held twice a year, was unrelated to growing tensions with China or the debate over collective self-defense.

“The strategic environment surrounding our country has changed and the Japanese people are concerned about their security. Our mission is to be ready to protect the peace and security of this country — we are confident we can do that,” said Colonel Sosuke Yoshida, commander of the 37th Infantry Regiment.

Lieut. Colonel Tom Wood, commander of the Third Battalion, Third Marine Regiment, said he was impressed with the planning, maintenance and field skills of the Japanese troops. If they lack anything, he said, it’s the ingrained aggressiveness that U.S. troops have learned through a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“You can see it: they are not an offensive force, they are a self-defense force,” said Wood. “But I’d be happy to serve alongside these guys. We know they’ll be there.”

55 comments
RobertusAntoninus
RobertusAntoninus

This is great news!  And it looks like France is returning to sanity with the rise of the FN too - Marine will put the steel back into the French nation! Hopefully Germany will be inspired to become the Germany of Frederick once again.  All good.



giantsloar
giantsloar

I say lift the restrictions on Japan's military. If they get out of hand like last time, they can be reined in for good.

JamesOng
JamesOng

Japan is eager to have WW2 experience revisited when two atomic bombs were dropped on her. But this time around, when WW3 starts, I foresee that Japan will be able to experience nuclear bombs on her soil again..

#libtardedamerica
#libtardedamerica

pacifist past? more like forced pacifism for less than a century. why oh why is it so hard for TIME to print accurate headlines

RobertNguyen
RobertNguyen

It's time for Japan to stand up not only to defend itself but to assist the world to counter balance bullying power(s) in the region.

The best course of action for both Japan and the US at this inflection point in history is for the US to transfer a full carrier TF to Japan. Japan can afford the new responsibility; and the US needs this help.

atlas
atlas

@Bugman82 You must be posioned by Abe and the extreme right wing members like the animal Ishihara Shintaro who deny all the WWII war crimes they committed includes the mass killing in Nanking, raping, comfort women, using chemical weapons ... Even worse, they even changed the school text book to cover up the crimes and deny the Tokyo trial. Now Abe is trying to change constirution to allow its military force to attack.  This is preparing the return of the evil imperial Japan army where no boldy wants to see. However, this Abe belongs to a famous WWII war criminal family member is trying to bring them alive. Learn from Germany and they will get respect from neighbours.

Please note Japan existing military forces is one of the most powerful in Asia and it is under protected by US. Abe does not need to expand more on this. Why he is so worried to China. It is just using China as an excuse to prepare the return evil imperial army.  Don't be fool by Abe.

sirprzemyslaw
sirprzemyslaw

Americans need to be taught not only the Holocaust in their history classes, but also the war atrocities and crimes that the Japanese military committed during WWII to the peoples of Asian nations that were exponentially worse than anything the Nazis ever did: mass rapes, sexual slavery, sadistic executions, horrific mutilations, human experimentation, and what-not. Then they will understand why most of Asia is indignant over the resurgence of the Japanese military in the modern world. But of course, the West has an undeniable favoritism toward Japan that makes them want to give the middle finger to anybody who wants to rough house their best friend in the Orient. Japan shamelessly denies the brutality they committed in the past. Hell, the Japanese might be peaceful people now, but they still venerate in the highest regard the very ancestors who committed the atrocities in Shinto shrines. Americans just don't want to understand most of Asia's outrage at this, they are coldly and voluntarily ignorant because they want a close military ally they can rely on in Asia in case tensions break out between the U.S. and China so they can emerge as the victors against their biggest rival, therefore promoting war criminals. 

alfredlaplouse
alfredlaplouse

It would be great to see the samourai kick some Chinese ass.

profengs
profengs

You want to see the Chinese and SE Asia have a collective stroke, wait until the Japanese announce they are going to develop their own nuclear deterrent. They will do this because in the long run they will be forced to. This nation is becoming totally undependable as an ally. The Chinese are afraid of the Japanese with good cause. The Japanese will not admit tot he rape of Nanking, but I assue you the Chinese remember well.

ozette11
ozette11

I would love to have the Japanese fighting at my side. Their fighting spirit was shown well in World War II. The energy was directed in the wrong direction 70 years ago. But in today’s world their forces would be decisive in World skirmishes that take place everyday, especailly in ASEAN area’s. China fears Japan as they should, they are better lead and armed and have a mind set that would overwhelm the Chinese. 70 years has not undone that ingrained spirit. ‘Hordes” is exactly what you can call the Chinese ‘ Armed Forces” China dependacy on “ideaology would not carry them far in a local war or skirmish. Japan Air Force matches the Israeli Arm Forces.  In stimulated combat Japan won 14 kills to 1. The Chinese copies of major armaments would act just like that’ As copies”unreliable less power, less efficiency, thus the high kill rate. I Hope Japan opens up. They would be a welcome andmuch needed partner in the sure to come skimishes with Putin’s Russian and the overrated Chinese. Welcome ro the Rising Sun !!!!!!!!.



Read more: http://world.time.com/2013/10/22/why-tokyo-wants-to-break-free-of-its-pacifist-past/#ixzz2iXcTiwLW

Mahhn
Mahhn

The world needs defending from Monsanto. Please attack them first.

JeffMartin
JeffMartin

Maybe someday they will fight to liberate the american people from their occupying government.

horse23
horse23

Japan and the United States form the tightest Alliance on the face of the planet.  As a nation, Japan supports the US with basing rights, infrastructure, and SOFA status to family members so that our military servicemen and women can be forward deployed.  The US cannot maintain Security in this Region without the Japanese people, and Japan cannot defend themselves against potential aggressors without the US.  Anyone who has served in this AOR understands the importance of our partnership; there is and never will be one like it.  People who raise the atrocities committed by Japan pre-and during WWII truly do not understand the landscape of todays politics and strategic alignments.  Here's to many decades more of US Japan friendship.


sukebe7
sukebe7

No, Colonel Wood. What they really lack is the ability to make real decisions. In short, they simply cannot pull the trigger.

JosePremLal
JosePremLal

It is best that Japan is kept pinned down and encouraged to just focus on the positive things they do well. i.e in the field of electronics, automobiles etc. The americans will anyway defend them. Why should they worry unless they have an agenda? At the most, they should be encouraged in taking part in various UN peacekeeping missions. Why should they not shoulder this responsiblity just like other nations? For what their armies have demonstrated for hundreds of years, it is best the Japs are kept disarmed in terms of offensive capablities. Else, it won't be too far away before they go back to their genocidel ways...

jaredddbrown
jaredddbrown

Yeah, no.

Japan is paying the price for their involvement in WWII.  Part of their surrender was that they would not have a freestanding army or be able to participate in wars for a very long time.

It's ONLY been 70 years since WWII.  I think for the kind of atrocities they committed against the Chinese alone, they should be barred from EVER having an army.  

mrsleepguy
mrsleepguy

Good for them


Some HONOR is what the World needs!!!!

hero
hero

一句话:中日不可能开战。

Dellair
Dellair

Of course Japan only aims to help "defense" of member countries. Who are we talking about?

~80 years ago they were just trying to build a better Asia. It is you the world who doesn't understand them. Without the US interferece, we would have been living in an amazing universe already.

Why did the US get involve by the way? Oh, right, the Pearl Harbor...

One day Yamato people would rule the world. It is sooner better than later. Chinese people was silly to put up a fight 80 years ago.

History is sometimes ironically similar and funny.

CopperZen
CopperZen

*sighs*

This is a very natural progression that anyone could read so long as they aren't biased.  The Japanese SDF is naturally finding itself cornered by history/modern concerns/politics/ ...etc...  

I will be the last to forget the Rape of Nanking (speaking as an amateur historian) but I recognize that the Japan of today is hardly the Japan of yesterday.

The Samurai are coming back.

Time will tell.

atlas
atlas

@ahm You are just like an extreme right wing member using falsewood to cover up the agression of imperial army.  Look at this WWII war criminal family member Abe also using this tactic to expand the miliatry prower.  However, not all Japanese like Abe acting a fool. How much you get to post your comment from Abe? 100 yen.

ahm
ahm

I see the Chinese keyboard army is already out in full force on this article. It may be helpful to know that these people get 50 cents to $1 for every comment they post.

tpng813
tpng813

Japan pacifist past? Hahaha the article is truely laughable. When in history has japan been Pacifist without america forcing it upon them. They are truely a aggressive nation use excuses to gain back its past brutality. It still denies any wrong doing in ww2. Its not a sane n thoughtful nation. Boycott japan!

DrZin
DrZin

@atlas Yeah, I'm sure China's history textbook is a real tell-all.

Japan is a grown-up country with a longer standing democratic government than the vast majority of other nations in the world. They should work in tandem with all allied militaries, but they don't need to stay under the umbrella.

Besides, they can see that Obama is intentionally weakening the U.S. globally. If China landed on Taiwan tomorrow, can anyone honestly see the Looter in Chief scrambling jets and deploying fleets to go do anything about it? NFW. So who the hell else is going to protect Japan when Washington pusses out?

Bugman82
Bugman82

You may also want to google "Japan admits war atrocities" and read the newspaper publications and literature so that you might see the reality instead of biased opinions.  The truth is much more balanced than, "Japan hasn't ever admitted to war crimes."

Here is an example from Wikipedia:

Since the 1950s, senior Japanese Government officials have issued numerous apologies for the country's war crimes. Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that the country acknowledges its role in causing "tremendous damage and suffering" during World War II, especially in regard to the IJA entrance into Nanjing during which Japanese soldiers killed a large number of noncombatants and engaged in looting and rape. However, some members of the Liberal Democratic Party in the Japanese government such as former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi and current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have prayed at the Yasukuni Shrine, which includes convicted Class A war criminals in its honored war dead. Some Japanese history textbooks only offer brief references to the various war crimes, and members of the Liberal Democratic Party such as Shinzo Abe have denied some of the atrocities such as the use of comfort women. In addition to Japanese military and civil personnel, Allied authorities found that Korean and Taiwanese serving in the forces of the Empire of Japan also committed war crimes.


Bugman82
Bugman82

@atlas Your upholding of shoddy journalism shows your bias.  A single textbook isn't a reflection of the entire nation or education system.  A single individual, Abe, isn't a reflection of an entire group of people.  You latch onto Abe like he is Japan.  Generalizing a nation based on one individual's views is degrading on so many levels.  Did you pay attention to the above article above that shows 60% of Japan disagrees with any changes to the pacifist sections of their constitution?

I think some are concerned with China over border disputes, humanitarian issues, economic manipulation, and censorship that is more of a reflection of imperialism than anything Japan has done in the past 70 years.

allbuss
allbuss

@robbyzheng 

And yet, Chairman Mao's face is on the RMB- the man responsible for the murder of 29 million people. The only country to murder more people is soviet Russia, yet you judge the Japanese? When faced with a country that has had no problem murdering its own people, yes, it is time to arm.

Bugman82
Bugman82

@robbyzhengPropaganda.  Japan has been acknowledging its atrocities for decades.  Shoddy journalism latches onto a few lone incidents and act as those it is a reflection of the whole nation.

Google "Japan admits war atrocities" and read the numerous times Japan has declared publicly what occurred during WWII.

allbuss
allbuss

@jaredddbrown 

After murdering 29 million of their own citizens during the cultural revolution, China hardly has the moral high ground. Hitler only killed 7 million people, the Japanese, far less than that.

andrew62358
andrew62358

@jaredddbrown I totally agree with you!  How dare we even consider tarnishing the memory of an entire generation of American soldiers by considering rearming a very militaristic society.

mrsleepguy
mrsleepguy

@KwaiChangCaine 

Only to those that threatened it... not many places can say that... not America... CERTAINLY not COMMUNIST China!!!

Oliviachiang
Oliviachiang

@Dellair a better Asia for only Japan, not for other Asia countries. 

You Japanese peope think only Japanese people are human, are noble, while people from other countries are ant, are hangdog. And you said a better Asia!!!! Better only for you.  Japan is Japan's home, China is China's home, you want to Grab China as your home, and you said China was silly to put up the Anti-Japanese War? 

In your eyes, we are silly, but in our eyes, you are the self-righteous thing, a heterodoxy.

sukebe7
sukebe7

yea, you do know that the samurai used to kill anyone who landed on their beaches, don't you.

jadonkain
jadonkain

@atlas Give it a rest.

As ahm stated above, Japan has every right to its self-defense just like any other nation. It's not going to become an aggressive empire like in the past, obviously, just because it militarizes itself. Japanese militarization seems rather necessary to me, with the ever-growing, gigantic, rather militaristic China at their doorstep 24/7.

ahm
ahm

@atlas Every Chinese politician alive today is a member of the Tibetan genocide crime family, but you don't see me complaining that they *have an army*. The right to self-defense is inherent in a state, and Japan is only pretending to deny its right out of politesse.

duduong
duduong

@ahm 

Wow, avoid all the substances and just go straight for the ad hominem. You redneck teapartiers care to explain why Hitler had to be destroyed but his Japanese counterpart could be allowed to remain on the throne? Both Germany and Japan killed 8 digits directly and hurt 9 digits victims indirectly. Both set up death camps to do the unspeakable. The only difference is that German victims were most white and Japanese victims were mostly Asians. I know you guys are either open or closet racists, but rooting for Nazi behaviors by Nazi allies is going a bit far.

Omnimalevolent1
Omnimalevolent1

@ahmI am skeptical of this, and even if it is true, they still got a point.  This coming from someone who has lived in Japan, and knows Japanese.  Look at their ひゅうが型護衛艦, or helicopter destroyers which have been built fairly recently.  The Hyuga and the Ise, which oddly enough were the exact names of two sister ships used by the military during WW2.  Sure, these are the names of two older Japanese provinces (similar to how the US names their ships after states), so it might not amount to anything.  But it does certainly feel like a deliberate taunt at China, and others who still have bitter memories of WW2.

Bugman82
Bugman82

@tpng813 What are you talking about?  The Japanese government fully admitted the existence of a secret World War II Imperial Army unit that allegedly killed thousands of people in chemical and biological experiments as far back as 1982.

In the 70s it was openly admitted atrocities against China and Korea.  You're spouting nothing but propaganda.

atlas
atlas

@Bugman82 You had answered yourself that now Japan Abe is not admitting the WWII war crimes they committed particular to masss killing in Nanking, comfort women, mass raping, using chemical weapons... This is a group of extreme right wing group trying to bring back the glory of imperial Japan army.  Abe is one ot them. His graandparent Nobusuke Kishi  was one of the key ministry in WWII. How can Abe is not affected by this famous war criminal.

Even worst, Abe is going to: changing constitution, changing text book to hide the war crimes, bringing the evil emperor to be head of state, deny Tokyo trial, deny comfort women, stealing the islands from China even Japan was defeated, expand military forces..... All these show Abe is in wrong direction as a leader and it is dangerous if Abe continues llike this.

duduong
duduong

@Bugman82 

Empty and meaningless apologies are a traditional Japanese ritual. Have you seen the Tepco Managers bow in apology, while its workers continue to dump hundreds of tons of radioactive water into the Pacific every day? Did the US simply demand an apology from Hitler and let him stay in control?

Japan's victims want repentance, not apologies. Germany repented. It banned the Nazi party, gave up all disputed territories, paid tens of billions in restitution and forswore foreign military adventure. Japan, on the other hand, openly rewrites history, refuses to compensate even the sex slaves, worships its war criminals and is building up forces to reclaim territories gained in its period of invasion. You think its lip service means anything to anyone other than unthinking idiots? You either think we are or you are one yourself.

The world wants Japan to stop dumping radioactive water into the Pacific instead of offering empty apologies. Dido for its attitude towards its WWII victims.

atlas
atlas

@Bugman82 @atlas Of course, I know 60% of Japanese disagree any change of constitution. But don't forget the leader is Abe, a famous WWII Nobusuke Kishi war criminal family member and he himself admitted as an extreme right wing. Those evils are trying to gain support by using China to expand the military forces and constitution. Also changing the text book history making the next generation does not know the evil deeds of the imperial Japan army. Lastly, Abe still not thinking any wrong in WWII includes a bunch of animals followers:Ishihara Shintaro, Takashi Kawamura ....Watch out the return of evil.

CopperZen
CopperZen

@sukebe7 Lots of folks used to kill anyone who landed on their beaches.  The Japanese simply made it official policy until the country was forced to open during the mid 19th century.

Bugman82
Bugman82

@duduong @ahm Are you dense?  Nations change, get over it.  Both Germany and Japan have thriving nations, are peaceful people, and are made up of a new generation of reasonable individuals.  It is you holding onto the past that promotes racism against a group of people that took no part in the atrocities of the past.  It is you who judge their children and their children's children. 

tpng813
tpng813

Im not spouting propaganda. Japan has made half apologizes at most it doesn't show sincerity by one offical saying sorry then another official says they did nothing wrong. Would you call that a apologie? Even with the so called confront women of ww2 which they said was necessary.

clay.1776
clay.1776

@duduong @Bugman82 

Japan was not forced to depose the emperor because they surrendered before Allied troops hit the mainland, while Nazi Germany did not. The reason the allies kept the status quo in Japan was the same reason they made accommodations with Mao, arguably this worlds most brutal and horrendous dictator, after the war. Somebody needed to be in charge and the prospect of renewed war was undesirable. Look at Korea, If the Americans had wanted they could have utterly destroyed not just North Korea but China as well, but the war weary American populace, not to mention the personal problems between McArthur and Truman, kept that from happening. The Japanese would not have surrendered if it meant an end to a dynasty that has ruled Japan since the 7th century. As an aside, one of the greatest tragedies of the later half of the 20th century was that Mao died in power, instead of in an unmarked grave in some forgotten field. 

duduong
duduong

@Bugman82 

But that is exactly the point. Germany changed. It outlawed the Nazi party and gave up all disputed territories. Japan, on the other hand, has not. It openly worships its war criminals, rewrites the history to deny facts about WWII, and continues to build up forces to reclaim territories it gained during its period of invasion. 

Given that the US was built on genocidal land theft against the Indians and went though a century of slavery, I can understand why you want to disclaim all historical responsibilities. But America still supports Jewish claims against European institutions (e.g. Swiss Banks) that aided Nazi oppression. So, which is it? History doesn't count, unless the US says it does? What about the hundreds of Pakistani civilians killed by  American drones every year as of now? Your standard really is not a standard. It is simply that whatever the US likes is right. That may feel really good to you; the rest of the world may not share the feeling.